I’m going to throw a hypothetical at you right now. If your laptop/desktop/phone were to spontaneously combust…would you be 100% sure that your data was safe? Would your pictures, videos, documents, contacts, and notes be easily recoverable? If you can’t answer those questions with “Yes, I know that my data is securely backed up and I can easily recover it”, then you need to read this.
I used to be very lax in terms of backing up my data. I didn’t have a well thought out system and wasn’t prepared in the event of drive failure or file corruption. That all changed during our first year of marriage when the hard drive that held all of our wedding and family photos failed. Now, some blame may be placed on me as I was probably tinkering with something I shouldn’t have but nonetheless, the drive failed. We had no backups of our pictures and the memories which we captured were all but lost forever. Thankfully, there are recovery tools available that helped retrieve the lost data…but we were lucky.
What should I backup?
Without a doubt, you’ll want to backup your personal data. This is stuff that isn’t easily recoverable such as documents, pictures, movies, etc. Normally this data is saved to your home/user directory. You can pretty much ignore system files and programs as those can easily be installed and downloaded again if a drive failure occurs. The same can be said for content purchased from digital stores such as iTunes, Google Play, or Steam.
In the end, it is up to you but always select the obvious folders. Most of the time the backup software will select the user’s home folder by default but you should always be sure. In case you don’t know what your personal files/folders look like, here’s a handy image.
The 3-2-1 Rule
Generally, I recommend that people follow the 3-2-1 rule when it comes to backing up their data. The rule means that you should have 3 copies of your data, 2 of the copies should be on different types of storage media (external drives), and 1 copy should be offsite (this can be another physical location or even an online cloud service). If you want to read more on this topic, here’s a link for you.
The next couple sections will help you with setting this up.
What Do I Need?
- A computer
- Backup software (included with most operating systems)
- An external drive
- Cloud storage account (optional)
2 Copies on Different Media
It is really easy to get lost in the jungle when it comes to finding the perfect backup solution for your devices. My opinion is that there is no such thing as perfect backup software, but there are some options that are clearly better than others. Some are preinstalled on the operating system and others require a download or purchase.
I really want to discuss the options that come pre-installed on your computer. For the common user, these are enough to add peace of mind.
- File History (Windows 10) – In Windows 10, File History will store a copy of your user directory on an alternate drive (internal or external). Setting it up and recovering files is simple and this might be the go-to backup solution for many home users.
- Time Machine (Mac OSX) – This is a very handy tool to utilize if you are using an Apple computer. As with many OSX applications, this tool is extremely user-friendly and does not require much technical know-how.
- Deja-dup (Ubuntu) – I’m not going to cover every single backup option that is paired with Linux distributions…that would take quite some time. Ubuntu may be one of the more popular distributions in the Linux universe and Deja-Dup is the backup software paired with it. It essentially uses the Duplicity software to hide a lot of the complex settings away from the user to create a simple to use interface.
Alright, now you are set with your two copies. You have the copy that is on your primary computer and a copy on the external drive. Now let’s get our offsite copy started.
Copy to the Cloud!
Although you could make an additional copy on a separate external drive to store offsite, I recommend using an internet backup solution instead. This is often easier and the cost is fairly nominal (around $60/year). This will allow you to recover your data in the event of a disaster (flood/fire) where the primary copy and the external drive are destroyed. Here are two that I recommend checking out.
- Google Backup and Sync (Free)
This is a new service provided by Google and can be invaluable for saving those important files. Once downloaded, the application is simple to setup. I find it important to note that once you set it up you’ll want to set the ‘Delete’ rule in the preferences menu. This will prevent an accidental delete from your computer to impact the files that are stored on the drive.
- High Quality vs Original
For photos and videos, you can select High Resolution which will not count against your storage limits (currently Google gives you a generous 15GB). Granted, the photos/videos will be reduced slightly to save space on Google’s servers but unless you are a professional photographer, you won’t know the difference. Click here for an article comparing the quality settings…lemme know if you can see it.
- High Quality vs Original
- Carbonite ($100/yr with a 15-day free trial)
One of the more popular cloud backup solutions on the market, Carbonite’s Plus tier allows users to backup unlimited data to their servers. They can even backup contents of external drives and mirror images of their whole system. Setup doesn’t require much technical knowledge and recovery is simple.
Now Go Backup Your Data!
Sorry for the long post but I feel it be a necessary to discuss this topic. Your photos, documents, family movies, and secret holiday recipes are too important to leave to chance. We’ve experienced data loss before and it is a gut wrenching feeling to lose all of that data.